When I was in my early thirties, my husband and I pastored a church. We had been serving in supporting roles for several years and inherited the leadership when our senior pastors moved into the next phase of their ministry. Many members of our congregation were twice my age and most of our our team members had a strong desire to serve the Lord but needed training and time to adjust to our way of doing things. Many expressed interest in teaching, preaching and joining the worship team, but the church’s most pressing needs were less visible tasks. I worked very hard to make up for the slack by filling in the gaps through my own efforts.
I resigned from my day job to attend to congregational needs and an administrative office that was a mountain of paperwork and bills. The church needed regular cleaning, and while my own home lay neglected, I scrubbed the floors and toilets. We began to struggle to put food on the table, but there was a waiting list of people who wanted to come over for dinner and talk about their ministerial needs. I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I thought that by trying to do everything I was leading by example. I kept working and doing and scrubbing, desperately hoping that my work would speak as a message and inspire others to join me. It didn’t.
I became frustrated, but fear of wounding people with the truth caused me to continue my solitary pursuit of perfection. While certain members of our team scrambled for recognition and positions of authority, I held my tongue and tried to be the perfect pastor’s wife. I have since learned, and am learning, that it is impossible to lead if I am not real. I’m learning to follow a few principles that help me serve and lead in a way that works for me.
Speaking honestly and promoting openness.
The thing that is great about speaking your mind is that it opens us up to God’s light. When we speak, we expose situations and we expose ourselves. Speaking openly about anything will cause good and evil to rise to the surface. If we are humble enough to accept that part of God’s correction may also come to us, He may also allow it to come through us. And yeah, I’m going to mess up. But if I don’t voice my opinion, it is much more difficult to weed through and separate my personal frustrations from situations that I truly do need to speak into.
Yes, think before you speak, but speak!
Being vulnerable and leading (or just living) from the heart.
I’m not talking about being an emotional basketcase, but let’s be real. Let’s be honest, transparent and human. A person who is strong enough to keep their heart open will make a leader that is able to win the hearts of others. With vulnerability also comes humility, as it is difficult to pretend we are perfect when we adopt such a transparent posture.
I truly believe that if we do not listen to our instincts when we are trying to serve God, that we may be blocking out the voice of His Spirit trying to guide and lead us. Fear of our flaws taking over will also inhibit us from moving into what He wants to lead us to do.
Embracing uniqueness and placing value on strengths.
Much of the burden that I carried came from trying to be what I thought I should be. I didn’t recognize myself in the role of a pastor or pastor’s wife so I tried very hard to become something that I wasn’t. A leader who is not comfortable in their skin will not be able to recognize the true call and giftings of those around them. It was very hard for me to rely upon the strengths of those around me when I wasn’t even drawing from my own.
Embracing uniqueness doesn’t stop with ourselves! When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can then begin to see the unique strengths of others.
Pursuing excellence and accepting imperfection.
“Perfectionism is just fear in really good shoes.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
I would add that if this quote is true, then pride is the hosiery. Great things happen when we step out and try new things. Perfectionism will cause others to be afraid to even try, as it is born out of our own fears of not measuring up.
Creativity and innovation begin to flow when we stop looking into our past experiences for an ideal to attain, which takes us on a path towards excellence. Excellence and perfection are entirely different beasts!
Seeing the big picture and letting go of the little things.
Part of letting go of perfectionism involves retaining the general vision as a leader, without feeling the need to micromanage. Let your people do things differently than you – they may surprise you by doing certain things better than you would have, and certainly will perform better if you give them the space to do so!
Remind yourself that those working with you are more important than the task at hand, and see the task as a way of training and growing them into efficient workers and leaders. This puts value back in its rightful place. The task you are working on may be irrelevant next week or year. What matters most is people.
Moving beyond failures and remaining teachable.
It is impossible that you will always do everything right. You will never succeed at every undertaking. Accept your failures and allow yourself to learn from them. Don’t let your narrative cover up mistakes in a way that prevents you and others from learning from them! Embracing failure will lead to a greater humility, and Christlikeness, in your life and leadership capacities.
Only God knows the end from the beginning and nobody likes spoilers! Just obey God, leave room for adventure and let the journey be a part of creating the backdrop of your final destination. What looks like a failure today could very well be your key to success. Persevere. Let go and leave room for God and others to add nuance to the final outcome of a project. You will learn more and the final income of a dream that has been tried, tested and influenced from many directions, will certainly have more capacity to inspire and endure.
When all else fails, forgive.
My husband and I have a motto: “Forgiveness is more important than self improvement.” I think on this a lot, and I realize more and more that it is even the key to improvement. If my story is an implosion of chaos and heartbreak, I forgive those that have hurt me, and I forgive myself. Life isn’t over, and there is always another story, another project and another chance. God isn’t waiting until I am perfect before He decides to use me. Only through walking this constant forgiveness towards myself and others will I be able to rinse, wash and repeat these steps again, forgetting perfection once again, practicing authenticity and aiming for excellence.
Who knows, maybe eventually I’ll get it right.